Fred Inglis claims that “nobody provides any account of what to do, of how to prevent an ideologically demented and morally unprincipled government and its stooges from turning an internationally celebrated university system into the third-rate business practice now typical of so many failed, privatised British enterprises, three-quarters sold off overseas in any case” (“Thoughts unbecoming”, Features, 26 March). Well, I do.
First, keep remuneration linked to the entrant’s salary and ensure that the most senior professor cannot earn more than double what a lecturer takes home. Also, ensure that no manager earns as much as a professor. Participants in a community of teachers and scholars should not be attracted primarily on the basis of remuneration.
Second, keep decision-making within the academic bodies of the institution. Any vote of no confidence should lead to a vacancy in any leadership position and the need for a replacement. Autonomy of decision-making and protection from business-type financial pressures are key to promoting an independent, vigorous and critical academic environment.
Third, funding for research laboratories should remain the primary responsibility of the institution and departments. “Competitive” (read special interests, club members and so forth) funding via the grants system should be reduced to allow certain expensive projects to proceed, either individually or through collaborations, but should be only for projects that cannot be supported through the block grants to the public institutions.
Fourth, evaluations and reporting should be reduced drastically. Appointments should come after stringent evaluations and the same holds for promotions. In addition, the problems of the “constant evaluation” schemes largely obscure any apparent “rise in productivity” and distort many vital academic functions. What works is the promotion of an ethical standard among colleagues with only a gentle mixture of carrots and sticks within the system.